How Do I Talk to My Child About Abortion?

“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Jeremiah 31:15

But is there weeping here in America?

A few heartbreaking statistics:

I say heartbreaking rather than shocking, because you’ve seen these statistic before. I have too. So often that it might be easy to just see numbers and forget what they really mean.

Let’s make it simple: 3,000 times a day a baby is killed, and at least 2,500 of them sacrificed on the altar of “don’t make my life more challenging.”

Abortion is again forefront on our national conscience. Planned Parenthood has been exposed by (as of now) eight videos, which implicate that not only are they America’s top abortion provider, but are also selling human fetal tissue for profit – a federal crime. The callous demeanor of the people in these videos just highlights how far we’ve strayed into the mire.

All the publicity and conversation generated by this has inspired some interesting conversations around my dinner table, and maybe around yours too. For parents of young children, it raises the question – How do I talk to my kids about this issue? How young is too young to explain it to them?

The problem we parents face is that we can never keep our kids insulated from the evils of the world. If they don’t hear about it from us, someday they’ll hear it elsewhere: A friend at school, a news program, a conversation you didn’t know they were overhearing. It is their nature to hear far more than we expect. If we can’t keep them from it, then we need to be proactive in teaching them about it.

When we approach a sensitive subject with our kids, it’s good to do so with lots of prayer. Ask the Lord to give you the words, and the grace to handle the questions appropriately. Remember that God has given your children to you; while that may seem like an awesome responsibility, it also means he isn’t going to leave you out to dry. God will equip you. At the same time, he wants us to be wise in our approach.

My wife and I have talked about this issue with our kids more than a few times, and young as they are, we think they get it. In fact, A. consistently declares that he is going to be president someday so that he can make abortion illegal. (Good goal, kiddo.) I feel pretty confident in approaching this, so here’s my suggestion for a simple way to explain the issue to your kids:

“Every child is a blessing from God. Sometimes people don’t know that, or sometimes they just don’t want to listen to God. They try to say that a baby in a mommy’s tummy isn’t really a baby. They have a doctor take the baby out before it’s time, and the baby dies. It’s very wrong, and very sad. But Jesus wants them to know that he loves them, even when they do this. He forgives them, and he wants us to let them know that he loves and forgives them. He also wants us to let everyone know that babies are a blessing.”

1. Every child is a blessing from God. Our culture has become so murky with the notion that the value of life is determined by its quality, or by how it came to be. Let’s give our kids the worldview that all life is precious, no matter the circumstances surrounding it.

2. Sometimes people don’t know that, or sometimes they just don’t want to listen to God. We want to teach our children how to see this with compassion. We also want them to recognize that people don’t see the world the same way we do. Sinful ignorance and sinful rebellion may be different attitudes, but they amount to the same thing – a failure to see the truth. This also helps our children understand why someone would do something we would consider horrible. “They just don’t know.”

3. They try to say that a baby in a mommy’s tummy isn’t really a baby. Let’s put our kids on guard against the sterilization of terms that we see all around us. “They use words like fetus and embryo and tissue to avoid saying what it is… a baby.” But once again, we want to build compassion in our children. The woman who has been convinced to have an abortion has been convinced to believe that it’s not a baby.

4. They have a doctor take it out before it’s time, and then the baby dies. This is, perhaps, the hardest part. How much do I tell my child about what is actually happening? Do I give details? Is there some way to sugar coat it?

I believe we need to be honest and straightforward with our children about what is happening. We’re often afraid they’ll be emotionally scarred by hearing what to us sounds gruesome. Remember that your child probably has no frame of reference. Unless they’ve witnessed childbirth and/or death, they probably will have a distorted (and possibly somewhat silly) mental image with all of this. And that’s okay. It means they won’t be traumatized by knowing what is happening, and in time they will get a clearer picture. Don’t hedge on the reality of what abortion is; your child is trusting you to give them an honest view of the world.

That doesn’t mean we need to go into gory details. Depending on the age of your child, you can keep it as simple as they are ready to handle. I think my phrasing here is good for kids as young as 2-4 years old. For older ones, maybe you need to explain a little more. However, it’s better to err on the side of simple, straight, and honest.

5. It’s very wrong, and very sad. We also want to be honest with our kids about the moral and emotional implications. No matter what you’ve heard, read, or been told, here’s the simple truth: Abortion is murder, and murder is wrong, and it always leaves scars. A woman doesn’t have an abortion and come out better the other side.

6. But Jesus wants them to know that he loves them, even when they do this. He forgives them. The worst reaction a Christian can have to abortion (other than accepting it) is to shout words of condemnation and loathing at those who have gone through it. Do you need to call it sin? Yes. Will you ever change a heart by telling a young woman how disgusted God is with her? No. Let’s make sure our kids grow up knowing that Jesus loves all sinners, and forgives all sinners. No matter what they’ve done. This is the most important message we can give our children.

7. He wants us to let them know that he loves and forgives them. Our job is not to change people’s actions so that they become more moral. Our job is to introduce them to Jesus. So when we confront the problem of abortion, the primary goal is to speak grace. That’s even more important than stopping abortion from happening, though stopping it is a good goal. You can earnestly reach out with the Gospel and also work to forbid abortion. But those who focus entirely on stopping it lose sight of the greater goal. So, keep the horse in front of the cart, and then you get both cart and horse where you want to go.

8. He also wants us to let everyone know that babies are a blessing. Don’t underestimate how much your child will want to help make a change. They can be a part of this. Donate time to a pregnancy center or march for life somewhere, or pray about this before going to bed at night. Those things honor God and are part of the mission. The pro-life movement has its place in this battle, and our little ones can be a part of that.

In the end, you know your child best, and you are the best person to tell him or her about abortion and what we can do about it. Be the voice of truth in your child’s life, and help them grow up to say what God says about this. Have you found some good strategies for helping your child understand this sensitive issue? Please use the comments section to share!

I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” – Jeremiah 31:34

What if we lose our schools?

What if tomorrow it was announced by the IRS that any school maintaining a doctrinal or philosophical statement against same sex relationships would lose its non-profit status and be subject to the same taxes any for-profit business is expected to pay? For some people that may not seem like a big deal. For some it may seem like a justified change. But for Christian schools and the families sending their kids to them, it’s a disconcerting thought. What would happen to our schools? What would it mean for our children?

The Supreme Court is still deliberating what many are calling a landmark case about same-sex marriage. At the end of last month, during verbal arguments, the Solicitor General in charge of making the case in defense of same-sex marriage stated that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, when it comes to religious schools and tax-exempt status, “It is going to be an issue.”

What does that mean? Does it mean that all schools with doctrinal statements opposing same-sex relationships will be brought to heel? Does it only mean that there would be some complicated hoops to jump through? Who will this affect, and how?

Some might call it a slippery slope argument to say that churches running grade schools and high schools will be threatened; right now that discussion is focused mainly on religious colleges with married student housing. But the trend has never been in the direction of more religious liberty when it comes to this issue. Is it that far-fetched to think that the people who want to fundamentally change the mindset of a nation would come after institutions where children are molded?

So let’s run with the possibility for a moment and consider what we might do if Christian schools were forced to pay taxes as for-profit organizations. How would this affect their futures? Sadly, many schools would probably be rendered inoperable; the cost of running them, coupled with a drop-off of support due to the lack of tax-deductible gifts, would force many schools to shut their doors. Or come up with a completely different way to operate.

None of this should worry us, of course. Christian parents who want to raise their children to be disciples of Jesus don’t need a Christian school to do so. See, no matter how much pressure the world puts on us, they can’t really take away Christ or his Word. Parents are still the primary spiritual teachers of their children. They’ll still bring their children to the cross. They’ll still read the Word. They’ll still pray for and with their children, and encourage them in their faith. Even if parents are the only way children will know their Savior, that is enough.

Of course, I sincerely hope and pray that it doesn’t come to this. The ability for parents to put their kids in a Christian school is a great blessing, and a resource that we are very thankful for. But we don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know what God will allow.

However, parents shouldn’t wait until we lose the blessing of Christian schools to be making a conscious effort at home. Parents are still the primary spiritual teachers of their children. It’s still important – necessary, even – for them to bring their children to the cross, to the Word, to pray for and with, and to encourage their children, even if their children go to a school where these things happen. Parents, let’s act like the only way our children will know their Savior is through us – even if it isn’t the only way.

Marriage Advice from My Kids

Yesterday we were sitting down for lunch and my wife and I asked our boys what kind of advice they would give to a couple going through premarriage instruction. First, P. said, “Stay married, and never get divorced!” Then A. chimed in, “You need to hug and kiss lots. Like, smother the other person’s mouth with yours!” He went on to say, “You should go on lots of dates too.” When we asked what kinds of dates, P. suggested going to church. 

That’s about all the meaningful advice we got out of them before it devolved into strange noises and increasingly goofy suggestions, which is pretty typical with two little boys. But we were still having fun with their initial ideas.

As I walked up to church a little while later to sit down with a couple I’m taking through premarriage, I realized how perceptive their answers were. I mean, they’re really on to something! Robert Sternberg said a lasting marriage needs consummate love, which consists of strong long in three dimensions – passion, intimacy, and commitment.

Think about this: My boys advised that couples should “stay married and never get divorced” (commitment); that they should “hug and kiss lots” (passion); and that they should “go on lots of dates” (intimacy). They even got the importance of spiritual connection by throwing in that a good place to go on a date is church! Though I’m not sure what they imagine a date at church looks like – and I’m having trouble envisioning it myself! Not a bad thought, though.

Is this a glimmer of some kind of intuitive sense inside children about how real love works, like something God has wired into us to understand instinctively? Are my wife and I actually giving them a pretty good example (even though doesn’t always feel like it…)? Or did they just accidentally stumble on something elegantly true?

I guess I don’t really know. But for what it’s worth, I think they have some pretty cool advice, and if I had to give someone some really quick advice about marriage, I think I couldn’t do much better than they did:

1. Stick together for life.

2. Hug and kiss lots.

3. Prioritize dates and spiritual connection.

Amen, boys.

(Note: Lest you get the false impression that I’m raising the two most awesome human beings, as soon as I finish posting this I have to go discipline P. for “accidentally” spitting in his brother’s face. Simul justus et peccator.)

What the brain needs: oxygen, sugar, and relationship

 

If you know anything about how the brain works, you probably already know that without oxygen, your brain will die. That’s kind of the reason you go through life breathing, and why things like choking are kind of a big deal. And you probably know that your brain needs sugar (glucose), because that’s the fuel that makes it run. Have a conversation with a diabetic whose blood sugar has just taken a nose dive and you know how important sugar is to proper brain function.

Did you know that there’s a third thing the brain needs to function? Relationship.

This isn’t some clever and gimmicky idea I came up with. I don’t like to do gimmicky, and I’m not so sure I’m all that clever. This is real stuff.

When a baby’s brain is developing, it is using oxygen and glucose to feed and power the cells of gray matter that make up the brain’s structure, and it’s making neural connections from one part of the brain to another, sheathing it all in myelin, a material composed of fat. Those neural connections aren’t happening by accident, though. Every activity the baby is involved in is forming those connections, but the ones that really matter long term are the ones the baby makes in connection with other people.

These connections are absolutely vital to the long term health of the person. They affect that person’s ability to speak, to learn, to process emotions, to love, to interact with others. In other words, relationships are essential to healthy brain development. They are as important as oxygen, glucose, and fat.

Babies that don’t have a proper amount of nurture early on often end up with the “failure to thrive” diagnosis, meaning that they simply cannot live without someone showing them love.

It doesn’t stop with babies. Adult brains need relationship too. The effects of solitary confinement bear this out. When put in solitary confinement for extended periods, prisoners literally go insane. They experience hallucinations, paranoia, hypersensitivity, depression, perceptual distortion, and PTSD, among other problems. Our brains simply are not made to handle an absence of relationships.

See, it’s how God made us. He made us to need to be with other people. It’s a charming notion to say that we don’t need anything but Jesus, and from a spiritual perspective there is a truth to that. But we can’t miss the point that God chooses to work through means, and when it comes to our minds being healthy, one of the means is relationships. I think it’s because he himself, as the Triune God, is relational – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have an eternal relationship with each other. And we are created in his image.

Western science likes to quantify and qualify things by what it can measure, and we can’t really measure relationships. We can study how relationships work and how they impact people, but we can’t weigh relationship. Our tendency, then, is to look past it as something we don’t need to be intentional about. But we do.

If your kids came to you and said they were hungry, and it was after all lunch time, you wouldn’t give them half an apple and say, “Good enough!” would you? And if your child was having trouble breathing you’d probably do just about anything possible to make sure they were getting enough oxygen to their brains.

So what about relationship? Are your kids getting enough? Do they have your interaction, your conversation, your time? Do you play with them, sing songs with them, and hold them? Those things are as important for their little brains as food and oxygen.

And what about your aging parents or grandparents? Sometimes life stuck in a bed in a nursing home can feel awfully similar to solitary confinement. Sure, the staff at those places do what they can to give people social interaction. But nothing beats a visit from a family member or a close friend.

Let’s take it just a step farther. God made us for relationships, and it’s through relationships that the Gospel spreads. It’s like he wanted us to be close to one another, so we could communicate his love to one another. Almost like he planned it all along.

 

Bible Study for Boys (Review and Suggested Use)

Frugal Fun for Boys is a pretty cool website if you have boys, with lots of great ideas for activities and ways to encourage and build up your sons. I was a little excited when last week I saw that they are planning a Bible study series designed for boys, to encourage them in their daily walk and help them to grow up to be godly men. The first was released today, and I’ve had a chance to look it over. I’d like to offer my thoughts on it, as well as some suggestions for how parents can put it to good use.

Summary of the Study

This first Bible study is focused on the importance of being a diligent worker and not being lazy, slothful, or a sluggard. It has five days’ worth of activities that include readings from Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and Proverbs. Activities range from fill in the blanks and questions drawn from Scripture to journaling and reflecting on personal behavior, and even drawing a picture illustrating what the Proverbs are describing. The study can be found on this page and involves a couple clicks to download a printable form.

The good

  • The study relies on Scripture and uses passages that are possibly not as familiar to all children; they aren’t your typical memory work passages that kids will learn in Sunday School or Christian Day School. This means that boys going through the study will be delving deeper into the Word than just touching on well-known passages.
  • The variety of activities is an awesome way to keep it engaging, especially for boys who probably don’t need another piece of “homework” to do. It also makes it inclusive of different learning styles and talent levels.
  • The explanations of the Scriptural wisdom is very appropriate for the passages. They don’t try to shoehorn meaning into the passages that isn’t there, but rather just draw out what the passages say and how they apply to our lives.
  • I love that they included journaling as an activity concept (but I have some thoughts on their approach below). Application questions can only take learning and growth so far. To actually assimilate a concept into your life you need to process it personally, and journaling is a very effective way to do that.

The not-so-good

  • Holy Law based Bible studies, Batman! This study has zero Gospel involved in it. To be fair, the page where you pick up the printable study does have at the bottom of it a single bullet point about pointing your kids to the cross. But in the wider context of the whole study and all the stuff on the page before it, that does feel a little like a token Gospel and not a predominant undercurrent. You can kinda forgive that kind of thing when you have a study that is intended to use the Law as a guide. The problem I have with this is that the study is actually designed to really expose a young man’s guilt over his potential slothfulness. The cure the study offers is just to try harder. It’s sort of the Veggie Tales syndrome – good Biblical wisdom and morality, but missing the most critical component of Gospel motivation. The truth is, the Law by itself only breaks us down, and while it might sometimes change behavior, it doesn’t change the heart. The Gospel is what truly changes us from within.
  • The presentation is pretty stark. I get that it’s a homebrewed thing and doesn’t have any kind of big budget behind it, so you can forgive it not having fancy graphics and well designed clip art. But since it is aimed at boys, I think it needs a more appealing visual style.
  • Call it a minor point, but I did not care for the Day 1 activity of listing excuses and work well done. The main reason is because the nature of excuse making is that we try to justify ourselves, so encouraging a boy to write down both his excuses and his victories could easily just turn into him writing down all of the reasons he feels perfectly justified in making his excuses, and patting himself on the back for doing well. Or he will internalize his failures and not be able to think of things he’s done well, making him feel like a failure. Either way, it’s a risky activity.
  • Another really minor and picky point, but I feel like there should have been some suggested answers for some of the stuff. A spiritually mature and well learned parent could probably guide their child through it successfully, but some parents feel like they really struggle to dig deep into Scripture. Giving them the resources to help their kids along is critical for keeping them doing it.

Suggestions for use

Despite those not-so-good things being pretty significant shortcomings, I think it’s a fair start and a worthwhile concept. So, if you’re not going to reinvent the wheel and create your own study for your kids, and you’d like to make the most of this one, here are my suggestions:

  • Get the Gospel into it. The study begins with a story about a young man failing to live up to his father’s expectations. What a perfect place to contrast the way that Jesus lives us to all of the Father’s expectations on our behalf! Point to Luke 2:51 where it says, “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them” and talk about how Jesus’ obedience to his parents was credited to us. Then talk about how Jesus wept in the Garden at the thought of having to go through the suffering of the cross, but still did it because it was his Father’s will. Let that set the tone, and then throughout the week point your child back to those stories as the undergirding principle – You don’t have to do it to be right with God, Jesus already did it to make you right with God.
  • Invest your own time. If you’re going to use this well, I think it’s going to take as much time for you as the parent as it will take for your child. And that’s okay. You’re investing in your child’s character and future. But don’t shortcut yourself. Spend the time to make sure you feel confident about how you would answer all the questions and be able to help your son work through these things.
  • Teach your son to journal reflectively. If you’ve never done this before, it might be hard to teach, and the temptation would be to just use what they have provided. But as I said, I don’t think the activity the way they’ve set it up is effective. Reflective journaling is the process of saying, “What do I see in myself and what do I want to change?” A starter point for reflective journaling is always to simple describe the days activities, without commentary on the rightness or wrongness of them. After they’ve written that out, then they can comment on where they missed the mark or the standard of Jesus’ perfect example (usually just describing the events will help them see that clearly), how it feels to know that Jesus has hit the mark in their place, and what they hope to do better.

I believe that this concept of Bible studies for boys is a great one, and I am interested to see what else the folks at Frugal Fun for Boys bring out. I hope that future studies bring home the Gospel a little more clearly. Time permitting, I intend to keep reviewing their stuff and making my own suggestions. Blessings on your parenting!

New Opportunity for Parents

For the last few years I’ve been using the PREPARE/ENRICH system in working with couples. I recently had someone share with me that after working with me and using this system, she and her husband really feel in love again and like they are friends again. Premarriage couples that I work with also feel like they are really confident going into marriage after working through it. This stuff works.

Which is why I’m super excited about a new thing that LifeInnovations – the folks behind PREPARE/ENRICH – have come up with. It’s the P/E Parent Version, and it works similar to the regular P/E system. The couple takes an online assessment which compares their answers and provides feedback – just like P/E – but the questions and the feedback relate to your parenting, to your concerns about your children, and to relations throughout the family, not just between husband and wife. The feedback will show you as a couple the strengths you have, the areas where you need to grow, and gives you some idea of your parenting style and what it means. It also helps identify the difference between normal kid behavior and legitimate concerns, and the things that most stress you out in your family life. Finally, it has a new workbook of activities and conversations to help couples grow.

I’m not trying to sell anything for LifeInnovations or P/E here. I’m just a really big fan of their stuff and I believe they know what they are doing. The Parenting Version has gone through its own research process to verify that it does legitimately work for people who use it. I’m eager to start working with it.

Here’s the good news for you – if you’re a member of my congregation, this is readily available to you. There is a cost ($35/couple), but any family that can’t afford that price right now but would benefit from it just needs to let me know about that, and we have funds to help. We want to help families grow. And if you’re not a member? Well, let’s talk. I have worked with premarriage couples via video chat, even people I had never met in person. I am willing to help, as my time allows.

I hope and pray this becomes yet another great opportunity to see families enriched and become stronger, and experiences more of the joys and blessings God has given to families. To learn more about PREPARE/ENRICH, go to their website: http://www.prepare-enrich.com

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A note: I don’t usually use my blog posts as a place to “sell myself”, so I want to be sure it’s clear that I don’t ask or expect payment for my services to any family as a counselor. I am a trained Pastoral Counselor with a Master’s in Family Life Education, and I work for a church as a Family Minister. As such, I serve on behalf of my church and my Lord, and take joy in doing so. 

How Can I Change My Spouse’s Parenting Habits?

I have to confess something: I have all too often thought about my wife, “You know, if she would just do things a little differently in this situation, she’d have more success with the kids. If she would just listen to my parenting advice and put it into practice once in a while, I bet she’d be less stressed with the kids. If she would just read some of the books I’ve read, I know she’d find more joy in her parenting.”

I think these things because, after all, I have a master’s degree in this field. I read marriage and parenting books as a hobby. I listen to CDs and podcasts by parenting experts. I pray almost every day asking the Lord to make me a better father, and I spend a lot of time self-analyzing my parenting behaviors. So obviously – obviously! – whatever advice I have for my wife is going to be very useful and should be taken into account, right?

But then there are weeks like this one, where she is out of town and I’m solo parenting my kids. If I’m such a parenting guru, shouldn’t that mean that a week home alone with me will transform these boys into the paragon’s of godly pre-manliness we strive for? Well, what do you think the reality is?

No, it would seem that as much as I can go off to work for a day, fill my head with great ideas and spill them out into planning, come home and sit on my high horse of wise counsel, the fact is that in the trenches, I still struggle.

But we all have that tendency to look at our spouse and say, “I think you could be doing it better. And by better, I mean my way.” This is especially true when we’ve just learned some really great tactics or finally grasped some awesome parenting philosophy. And I want to be clear, those things are not worthless. In fact, I honestly do believe that there is a lot of value to things I have read and learned about parenting that I feel so inclined to share with my wife.

The question, though, is this – what is the best way to get those things across to your spouse? That’s a question I wrestle with often, because I don’t want to make my wife feel threatened by coming on strong, but I do want to encourage her when I see room for improvement. Just like I want her to encourage me to do better when I’m not bringing my best. So what do we do?

I got an email today from the folks at Love and Logic that put it very well, and I’d like to share the text of it. Very worth the read, and a great reminder on this subject:

Jennifer wrote to me, saying that her friend gave her one of my audio CDs called Love and Logic Magic When Kids Drain Your Energy. She went on to tell me that all she has to do now is to put her hand on her forehead and the oldest child tells his sister to shape up because Mom’s fixin’ to have an energy drain. She raved about how much fun she was having with the techniques she’d learned.

Giving me an example, she said, “Yesterday on the shopping trip, my 13-year-old daughter was getting pretty heavy into her newly acquired teenage angst, doing all she could to let me know how clueless I was. Just when I was about to say something, her older brother leaned over and said, ‘Cool it, Jess! Mom’s got her hand on her forehead!’ He saved the day for all of us.”

I was glad to read that it was working for her, when she continued to write, “But now I have to get my husband to buy into Love and Logic.”

Uh, oh, I thought. This is not the kind of thing that usually ends well. I don’t know many spouses who react well when being told that they need to change the way they are parenting. I immediately thought about that wise old sage who said, “You can’t make someone mad and sell them something at the same time.”

I wrote back to encourage her not to try to get Dad to change his parenting techniques. Telling someone that they are wrong, or that they don’t measure up, is a good way to trigger some resistance.

Her husband might find himself interested in what she’s doing if he sees her having an easier time with her own parenting. It would probably be best to encourage Dad to parent in his own way while she experiments with Love and Logic techniques to see if it makes her own job easier.

Listening frequently to her CDs when he might accidentally hear them might help. The odds for success are always better when someone buys in on their own, just as she did.

In other words, the next time you feel like you need to tell your spouse what to do differently, stop, take a deep breath, and think about how you can let it be his or her own idea. Be willing to support and offer the resources, but let them come to it. Parenting is intended to be a two person job, so make sure that you’re working together as a team, even when one of you needs to work on something.